2 May 2005 | Victor Field
Much funnier than "Johnny English" - too bad it's not supposed to be a comedy.
"xXx2: The Next Level" (Revolution Studios and Columbia Pictures changed the subtitle from "State of the Union" for international territories, for obvious reasons) comes from the director of "Die Another Day," which was terrible; producer Neal H. Moritz, whose last credited project was the dire (and thankfully now-cancelled) "Point Pleasant"; is a sequel to the dreadful "xXx"; and comes equipped with Samuel L. Jackson's stated dislike of making movies with rappers. On this showing, you can't blame him.
Trading in Vin Diesel (his character is written out by someone saying that he got killed in Bora Bora) for Ice Cube is no improvement; not only is he not the most expressive actor, but he's not that convincing in action (when he's being chased by Scott Speedman you just KNOW that Speedman would catch him like that (snaps fingers) in real life). In fairness to Mr. Cube, he's far from the only thing wrong with this; Simon Kinberg's screenplay seems not only to have been aimed at emotionally and intellectually stunted 13-year-olds but written by them as well, with the plot starting idiotically and continuing from there - the villainous Secretary of Defence played by Willem Dafoe is so pantomime villainous that when he makes a speech to Jackson you're surprised he doesn't laugh maniacally.
Suspending disbelief is one thing, but when you have a movie that expects people to believe that tanks can be handled like motorbikes... and which works in such daft plot turns as characters having their deaths faked just so they can be around for the climax (why not just kill them there?)... and that has a finale which depends on a car and a Presidential bullet train being able to fit on the same track despite the car being a compact if speedy sports car... in this case it's just impossible. Admittedly it doesn't help that said scenes are incompetently executed thanks to shockingly bad special effects and shoddy direction; some of the miniatures are glaringly obvious, and I particularly hope that lead effects house Industrial Light and Magic didn't do the CGI bullet train shots. And as for the way some of the shots go from film to what looks like video and back again...
The cast isn't much good either, although it's fun to see Peter Strauss as the President (in spite or because of his not sounding like he believes a word of this); Xzibit not only helps parts of this seem like "Pimp My Ride: The Movie" but he can't act, Dafoe is Special Guest Villain level, and Jackson phones it in. As for the female characters, Nona Gaye and Sunny Mabrey are pretty much defined by their cleavage and by the fact that one's good and the other (the one who looks like a cross between Nicolette Sheridan and Rachel Bilson) isn't. (The movie can't even be laddish properly; for some reason the sexiest woman in the movie (Masuimi Max, who plays Xzibit's girlfriend and who helps out with the robbery of the artillery-carrying cheese truck) isn't listed in the credits.) And the tiresome, crowbarred-in rap numbers don't help, certainly not compared to Marco Beltrami's score. (Ironically, at one point on hearing the female string quartet Bond our hero complains about the music; they are not to blame for the aural wrongs.)
"xXx2: Whatever" is so unexciting and so absurd that despite its stabs at relevance (our hero claims Dafoe is hatching "World War IV"), the only way to get through it is as a laugher; the sight of Ice Cube in a suit and tie (with umbrella!) is funnier than his intentional attempt at comedy later in the same scene. To make it worse, the last scene leaves the door wide open for a third movie... if it does happen, why not cast Scarlett Johansson or Charlotte Church as the new Triple X? It's not like realism is a key factor here.